Ocean City saves dog beach from closing

 Dogs run off-leash on the dog beach in Egg Harbor Township. (Bill Barlow/for WHYY)

Dogs run off-leash on the dog beach in Egg Harbor Township. (Bill Barlow/for WHYY)

Ocean City, New Jersey, will soon collect trash — let’s face it, mostly dog waste — from the parking lot of the popular dog beach at the foot of the Ocean City-Longport bridge.

More properly known as the Malibu Beach Wildlife Management Area, locals mostly call the beach facing the Great Egg Harbor Inlet “dog beach.” It’s been a popular spot for dogs and their owners for years, but the state indicated if litter and bags filled with dog waste continued to accumulate at the trailhead, it would close access to the park entirely.

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This year, the state and Ocean City reached an agreement to collect the trash, at a cost of $23,800 to the city.

“It’s a good resource for Ocean City residents and visitors. Conversely, with the potential for the state blocking access to dog beach, a likely spot for that dog pack to migrate would be on Ocean City’s beaches,” said Doug Bergen, Ocean City’s public information officer. In an interview Monday, he said that a dumpster will be put in place any day now.

On a weekday morning in April, there are enough dogs running around that it’s hard to keep track, but this is empty compared to the dog-packed beach of summer weekends, when the small gravel parking lot overflows and dogs and owners pack the beach.

As one of the few beach spots where dogs are welcome, the small stretch of inlet beach draws numerous visitors each year — enough that the numbers have begun to become a problem. A sign warns that the parking area will be closed if excessive littering continues, and a nearby, hand written sign asks that bags be walked across the street to the trash cans or dumpster near the fishing pier. Still, there is a small pile of waste-filled bags at the foot of the sign, and a few more scattered on the nearby path.

Although the area is part of Atlantic County, the Cape May County Bridge Commission that operates the toll bridge leading into Ocean City once collected the trash from the site. That stopped last fall. According to published reports the practice ended because the volume got to be too much in the summer.

Things were reaching the point where the state had to consider closing the site, according to Caryn Shinske, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees the wildlife management areas throughout the state.

“We want the beach to be clean so that everyone who visits can enjoy it,” she said.

Multiple sources, including official websites and the dog owners at the beach, say leashes are not required, but that’s not what the state says.

“It’s on state wildlife management property, therefor all dogs must be leashed,” said Shinske in a recent interview.

There are no houses nearby, and it’s been years since the demolition of the vacant remains of the beloved nightspot The Dunes across the road. The dog beach is just off a stretch of road through the wetlands connecting Somers Point and Longport, but it’s actually part of Egg Harbor Township, a sprawling Atlantic County municipality to which it has no direct connection. In fact, the 15-minute drive to the wildlife area from township hall passes through two other towns: Linwood and Somers Point.

There are ponds separating the beach from the busy road, where shore birds and ducks can often be seen. Far from the parking lot, at the end of the beach, a wide area is roped off as a nesting area. Most summers, it’s the site of one of the largest nesting areas in South Jersey for black skimmers, a dramatic black and white bird that flies close to the surface of still water, skimming its lower jaw along the surface for food.

Year-round, the 95.7-acre hosts a variety of migratory and nesting birds, including endangered and protected birds.

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